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Getting Stuck In The Fitting Room With RA

Getting Stuck In The Fitting Room With RA

Do you remember when you were a kid and there was that inevitable time when you went to the bathroom alone and somehow got stuck in it?  The wave of panic that came over you, for that fraction of a second when you thought you might never get out and no one would ever find you?

Well, this is kind of like that.  Sort of.

I was shopping for an outfit for my dissertation defense, and I tried on this really cute dress.  It was black and white with a chevron print, cute and sophisticated.  I was really excited about it, until I tried to take it off.

And with my RA, I couldn’t get it off.  No matter how hard I tried.  I wasn’t dexterous enough to be able to lift my arms above my head and pull the dress off at the same time.  I struggled for 10 minutes, sweat dripping off of me, making me increasingly frustrated with the stupid dress.

I contemplated.  I had three choices.  One was to tell the store to charge me for the dress, but I would be wearing it out of the store – very Julia Roberts, don’t you think?  The second was to rip the dress and get it off of me.  And the other was to ask a salesperson for help.

So I left the fitting room and found a salesperson, who asked how everything was going.  I was like, well, I really like this dress, but I can’t get out of it.  She asked if I wanted her to help me and I relented.  I was totally embarrassed, though.

She helped me get out of the dress, and I was so frustrated with the situation that I bought something else, but refused to buy that dress.

Ultimately, though, I dragged my boyfriend back to the store to show him the dress.  He really liked it, so I bought it, but not without his help getting out of it.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Lately I have trouble with sports bras and bathing suits, anything like that, that is tight and can only go over the head.  Zippered backs are difficult, and so too are regular bras and coats.  All those arm movements are simply not practical for someone with RA.

And it’s another reminder that I’m sick.  I struggle the way my 87 year old grandmother struggles with getting clothes on and off.  And it kills the fun and excitement of shopping when there is the anxiety that you might not be able to get out of something, and might need to ask a stranger for help.

I have resigned myself to the fact that I will inevitably have to ask my boyfriend for help, whether we are home or away.  I also have started to pinpoint things in my closet that I won’t be able to get off or back on if I am alone.

Maybe those of us with RA need to rally for a special section in stores that have RA-friendly clothes.  Or maybe I just have to get better at knowing the kinds of clothes that are going to be difficult for me to navigate myself.

Hopefully I won’t find myself getting stuck again in the fitting room with RA anytime soon.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Connie Rifenburg
    5 years ago

    I can laugh with you at your stories only because I have also been there. My issue is usually related to “over the head” items or bras. Sports bras are the worst, but I did find a comfortable, and reasonably priced “sleep” bra that I can step into and pull up, or on good days pull over my head. It has double panels in the front for modesty and support. I’m a “D” girl.

    The issues for me have been sweating when I dress. Everything sticks to me. I have to dress in front of a fan and even that is tricky. I have truly given up on dressing stylishly anymore.

    I’m disabled and I don’t work, so in my home, I dress in the most comfortable night shirt and go braless. I probably own more nightshirts than any other piece of clothing.

    I save the trying times of dressing and sweating for those times when I must go out. In my own apt, with my cats, I have selected a variety of bright colors and patterns of nightshirts, and if a visitor stops by, I run in and put on my cotton “sleep” bra that makes me presentable.

    It is, after all, MY life. I choose to be comfortable over pleasing others. I dress appropriately for the occasion, but it is ALWAYS based on my own comfort. Lots of cotton for me due to the sweating. Roomy. (more than I need to sometimes) and usually bright. It’s my concession to having an otherwise dull disease! 🙂


  • Anita
    6 years ago

    Ooh, I hate when that happens. I don’t have anxiety issues, but I do get frustrated. If I really like a difficult article of clothing, I’ve been known to modify it by adding alternate zippers on the side or swapping out fasteners for easier ones. I actually added a front zipper to a sports bras after I became unable to put them on or take them off any more. Being able to sew comes in handy.

  • Elizabeth
    6 years ago

    I hate fitting rooms! I have had this experience, too many times, but fortunately I don’t have anxiety problems, so I don’t tend to panic or melt down. My reaction is to get angry: with myself, with the dress/top/outfit, with designers for not even considering the needs of those with chronic disease, with genetics, with my family for passing it down, yada yada yada dah. Then with a black cloud of hate in my heart, I seek out a clerk or a kindly shopper, and snap at them. THAT is rude, and is a waste of energy I need for other things!

    As a result, I now only go shopping with my daughter (who has impeccable taste in clothing, and knows and understands my limitations) or my husband (who has NO taste in women’s clothing – he’d rather I went nude, LOL – but who can gently extricate me from nearly anything without harming either me or the item). I’ve gotten past trying to look “smart” or “stylish.” I get separates that I can mix and match. Black slacks or with a really dressy blouse go nearly anywhere for anything. Black skirt or slacks with a sweater or casual shirt goes nearly anywhere else.

    My daughter sees to it that my wardrobe is fairly well balanced and up-to-date. Frankly, though, most of the time I wear weird colored tee shirts and an elastic waist denim skort – every chance I get. I can get in and out of them by myself even with the worst flare I’ve had to date.

    Good wishes to all who have to make these decisions and adjustments!

  • Linda
    6 years ago

    My experience in the dressing room was JUST like yours. OMG I had tried on a Mother of the Bride dress and the dress went on so smoothly. But as I tried to take it off, panic set in. I never thought I wouldn’t have been able to pull the dress back over my head. I broke out in a sweat and then the panic set in. I tried looking for a sales clerk and there was none to be found. Tears started flowing down my face and I just seemed to panic more. I called my daughter at work and told her what was happening. I can’t believe how calm, kind, and told me sit down and take deep breaths (in and out) she said “Mom you can do this”. But I really couldn’t. She did talk me into trying again to find some help. I stepped out of the room and again looked for some help. A elderly lady I found walked by. I said “excuse me. Can you help me find a clerk to help me get the dress off? She came back and said “the only person I found said she was busy”. I started shaking and was in full panic mode. Finally a security guard came up to me asked me if I was okay?” I said “NO I can’t get this dress off and tears were falling and I said Please just get me out of this dress. She wanted to try and slowly take it over my head. But I was so panicked I said “No, please just get me some scissors and cut it off. I will pay for it, just get it off”. She said I know we can get this off we just have to do it slowly. I said no just cut it off. I think she finally realized I was beyond being able to calm down and slowly do anything. Again I said I will pay for it just get it off. She finally relented and cut the dress down a seam and I was finally out of that dress. The security guard said don’t worry about paying for it. She brought me a bottle of water and told me to sit in the changing room until I was ready to leave. I sat there for I don’t know how long. I had to take some anxiety medicine and try to calm down. But I was finding the smallness of the dressing room not helping to calm my claustaphobia. I made my way out of the store and finally to my car. I took a while to settle myself down before I tried to drive. I have never gone back to that store. Now 6 years later, I remember vividly the panic I had just trying on a dress. I no longer shop alone and am very careful to not try on anything I can’t get myself out of quickly. All these years I thought I was alone. How could there be anyone else who tries on a dress, can’t get it off (and it went on very easily), and panicked the way I did. Today I learned I am not alone. Thank you <3

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